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Greece’s Antiquities Crisis – More Stuff Less Staff

May 30, 2012

Broken ancient pottery from the wreck of a 3rd century AD Roman-era ship found 1.2 kilometers deep off the western coast of Greece is seen in this undated photo issued by Greek Culture Ministry on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Greece’s culture ministry says an undersea survey ahead of the sinking of a Greek-Italian gas pipe has discovered the deepest-known shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. A ministry statement Tuesday said the two Roman-era wrecks found far offshore also disprove the generally accepted theory that ancient shipmasters stuck to coastal waters rather than risking open-sea routes. AP Photo/Greek Culture Ministry.

There’s legitimate excitement about the Greek Ministry of Culture’s announcement (courtesy the Associate Press via ArtDaily) of the finding of two 3rd century Roman-era shipwrecks, but worry over how to care for them (and so much else) in light of the Greek financial crisis.

Both shipwrecks were in deep water between Corfu and Italy, which means not all shipmasters stuck close to the coast rather than risk the open seas. “The remains were located during an investigation that covered 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) of seabed off the islands of Corfu and Paxoi.”  Artifacts include, “scattered cargo — storage jars, or amphorae, used to carry foodstuffs and wine — cooking utensils for the crew, anchors, ballast stones and what could be remains of the wooden ships.”

“There are many Roman shipwrecks, but these are in deep waters. They were not sailing close to the coast,”[Angeliki] Simossi [head of Greece’s underwater antiquities department] said.

“The conventional theory was that, as these were small vessels up to 25 meters (80 feet) long, they did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew,” she said.

U.S. archaeologist Brendan Foley, who was not involved in the project, said a series of ancient wrecks located far from land over the past 15 years has forced experts to reconsider the coast-hugging theory.

“The Ministry of Culture’s latest discoveries are crucial hard data showing the actual patterns of ancient seafaring and commerce,” said Foley, a deep water archaeology expert at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

But amidst all the glee is the reality that Greece’s economic crisis is taking a big toll on staff in charge of the nation’s patrimony:

The discovery comes amid Greece’s acute financial crisis, which has also taken a toll on funding for archaeology.

Simossi said her department, which monitors a vast area rich in ancient wrecks and sunken settlements, had its staff reduced by half because of non-renewed contracts and retirees who were not replaced.

“There were 89 of us and there are 45 left,” she said. “We are fighting tooth and claw to keep afloat.”

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